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C M I R E P O RT 2 0 2 1 : 0 2 1 NUMBER 2 CMI REPORT J U N E 2 0 21 AUTHORS Siri Neset Turkey as a regional security actor Chr. Michelsen Institute Mustafa Aydin in the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, Kadir Has University and International Relations and the Levant Region Council of Turkey This report analyzes Turkey’s current foreign policy and its pronounced Evren Balta Özyegin University and role as a regional security actor. It pinpoints deeper determinants and Istanbul Policy Center limitations of the policies that can be observed in different theatres Kaan Kutlu Ataç of involvement. It identifies perceptions of policy makers and their Mersin University political allies about Turkey’s needs, goals, limitations, and national role Hasret Dikici Bilgin Istanbul Bilgi University conceptions as well as what drives decision makers in their choices. Arne Strand The report concludes with an overall framework for analysis in terms Chr. Michelsen Institute of Turkey as a regional security actor.
2 C M I R E P O RT 2 0 2 1 : 0 2 TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Section I: Understanding Turkey’s Strategic Thinking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Key Determining Factors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Strategic Geographical Position . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Impact of International System . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Ideational Inclinations of the Ruling Elite . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Goals Hierarchy and Policy Drivers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Siege Mentality and the General Feeling of Insecurity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Domestic Power Consolidation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 Maintaining/Increasing Capabilities through Development . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 Contemporary National Role Conceptions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 Regional Security Actor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 Strategic Patterns of Behavior . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Balancing (and Countering) Major Powers in International Relations ������������������������������ 17 Attaining Regional Supremacy through Power Projection in Near Abroad ��������������������� 19 Section II: Balancing Actions in Turkish Foreign Policy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 Balancing Between Russia and the West . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 Turkey and the West . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 Relations with Russia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25 Balancing the Regions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 Turkey in the Black Sea . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29 Turkey in the Middle East . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 Turkey in the Mediterranean . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32 Balance of Turkey’s Balancing Act: “Make Turkey Great Again” �������������������������������������34 Section III: Projecting Influence Beyond Borders: Capacity vs. Ambition 37 The Discourse on Ambitions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37 Leadership and Decision-Making Capacity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39 The Economy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .40 Strength of Alliance/Partnership Structures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41 Military Capacity as a Continuation of Politics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .43 Intelligence: A New Dimension in Foreign Policy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45 Stability, Security and Recovery Programs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46 Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49 Turkey as a Regional Security Actor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49 Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53 About the authors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61
C M I R E P O RT 2 0 2 1 : 0 2 3 TABLE OF FIGURES Figure 1: Do you think following countries threaten Turkey? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Figure 2: Support for Military Presence Abroad . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12 Figure 3: Support for Military Presence Abroad by Party Affiliation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13 Figure 4: Support for Cross Border Operations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13 Figure 5: Support for cross-border operations by party affiliation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13 Figure 6: Turkish Overseas Military Presence in Numbers as of January 2020. . . . . . . . . .20 Figure 7: Public Support for Mending Relations with Other Countries . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .42 Figure 8: Turkey as a Security Actor – Overall Framework . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51
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C M I R E P O RT 2 0 2 1 : 0 2 5 INTRODUCTION This report analyzes Turkey’s role as a regional security actor in the Black Sea, the Mediterranean and the Levant regions.1 The research team’s interdisciplinary background has guided the research, allowing a comprehensive assessment from a wide range of perspectives, as no single theoretical framework could holistically explain Turkey as a security actor. The overall framework used in this project mainly grounded in the neo/realist tradition of International Relations, but it also heavily benefits from various foreign policy analysis methodologies and a political psychology approach. The original data used in this report was collected through closed online seminars with international and Turkish experts on different aspects of the project, online in-depth semi-structured interviews with experts and political elites from various political backgrounds, online free-flowed conversations with academics, experts, officials and advisors in Turkey and internationally. A comprehensive analysis of statements made by key political figures between January 1, 2015 and September 15, 2020 was also conducted. During the project period, from July to December 2020, we have witnessed increased tensions in Syria, Libya, and the Eastern Mediterranean, and the resumption of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. The pace of unfolding security-threatening developments in Turkey’s neighborhood is by no means extraordinary and indicates the complexity and the gravity of the issues the Turkish decision-makers have to deal with regularly in their near abroad. Through this research, the team have identified key factors that guide the Turkish leadership in their strategic thinking concerning general foreign policy making and regional security issues. The research also reveals some of the long-term relational patterns between Turkey and its Western partners, and more recently with Russia. The report will reveal how Turkey is balancing its relations and policies between regions, between outside and inside actors, as well as between different actors to a varying impact in diverse theaters of operation. In evaluating/mapping Turkey’s national capacity to cope with all the issues arising in its neighborhood, the research has identified a set of key variables affecting country’s defense/military capacity. As such, it has enabled us to sketch out a framework to understand the contours of Turkey’s role conception as a regional security actor. The report is structured in three parts. The first part addresses Turkey’s historical and current strategic thinking and looks at the country’s foreign and security policies from a conceptual perspective. The second part looks at Turkey’s balancing acts between east and west, between Russia and its long- time allies, and among its regions. The third section assesses the balance between Turkey’s capacity vs. ambition in projecting influence beyond its borders. The concluding section sketches out an overall framework for analysis in terms of Turkey as a regional security actor. 1 This report is based on a research project funded through a grant to CMI from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
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C M I R E P O RT 2 0 2 1 : 0 2 7 SECTION I: UNDERSTANDING TURKEY’S STRATEGIC THINKING Whether consciously admitted or not, all countries follow long-term strategies, which are similar to highways, connecting one point in the past to a point in future passing through the present. As such, they politically and psychologically connect to an overall appreciation of a country including its history, cultural and ideological underpinnings, geographic realities, economic capabilities, future expectations, and understanding of its national interests as defined and constantly revived by its elites. These strategies provide a general framework and direction to the policy makers in their deliberations and daily actions. It is common to come across public sentiments expressed in popular media and by political figures that “Turkey lacks a strategy” in its foreign policy.2 In recent years, this has been coupled with statements emphasizing that Turkey’s foreign policy decision-making has become increasingly centralized, idiocentric and aligned with the whims of its decision makers. Similarly, at the international level, there is no clear agreement on whether or not Turkey has a coherent general strategy through which its leadership formulates various governmental policies and allocates the country’s resources.3 This lack of clarity about Turkey’s strategy is partly because Turkey does not have a tradition of publishing an official strategy or doctrine for its foreign and security policies, although various versions of the unpublished National Security Policy Document contain indications of an overall understanding of a strategy. Similarly, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of National Defense do not usually share their policy directions and overall policy frameworks. Nevertheless, when looking through several decades of policy behaviour, one can identify several patterns of conduct that are consistent over the years and have survived governmental changes. Codified as patterns of Turkey’s grand strategy,4 these “structural determinants” of Turkish foreign policy5 could guide us in our long-term search for a general framework explaining Turkey’s foreign and security behaviour in its neighborhood. Some of these patterns are also observable behind the policy lines of the current Turkish leadership, although they are not often mentioned in public and some of the implementation practices have substantially differed from the pre-AKP era governments. It could be argued that the current 2 For recent examples, see Cook, S.A. (2020). Erdogan is Libya’s man without a plan. Foreign Policy. https://foreignpolicy. com/2020/07/09/erdogan-is-libyas-man-without-a-plan/; Selcen, A. (2020). “Ankara’s foreign policy rationale”. Duvar English. https://www.duvarenglish.com/ankaras-foreign-policy-rationale-article-55552 3 Aydinli, E. (2020). “Neither Ideological nor Geopolitical: Turkey Needs a ‘Growth’-Based Grand Strategy”. Perceptions, 25 (2), Autum/Winter: 227-252; Oğuzlu, T. (2021). “Grand strategy: Turkey as a resilient middle power”. Daily Sabah. https://www. dailysabah.com/opinion/op-ed/grand-strategy-turkey-as-a-resilient-middle-power. 4 Aydin, M. (2020a), “Grand Strategizing in and for Turkish Foreign Policy: Lessons Learned from History, Geography, and Practice”. Perceptions, 25 (2), Autumn/Winter: 203-226. 5 Originally defined by Aydin, M. (1999), “Determinants of Turkish foreign policy: historical framework and traditional inputs”. Middle Eastern Studies, 35 (9): 152-186, this conceptualization was utilized in S. Neset, M. Aydin, M., Bilgin, H. Gürcan, A. M. Strand (2019). Turkish foreign policy: structures and decision-making processes. CMI Report. https://www.cmi.no/ publications/6854-turkish-foreign-policy-structures-and-decision-making-processes to situate current Turkish foreign policy making in a wider framework.
8 C M I R E P O RT 2 0 2 1 : 0 2 government is not willing to admit that publicly because they have been forced to follow similar strategic policies to its predecessors through the pressure of structural determinants (i.e., Turkey’s geography, history, socio-cultural characteristics, and the impact of international system). The long-term patterns of Turkish foreign and security policies, which could be classified as linchpins of Turkish strategic thinking, are briefly explained below. Key Determining Factors Strategic Geographical Position Although Turkey has undergone profound changes since the 1920s, the value of its geographical position has not significantly altered – even if its relative importance to other states has varied over time. Turkey’s multidimensional geography has been used for political and economic benefit, but also represents a source of weakness when taking into account the number and combination of its neighbors. Some of the challenges resulting from Turkey’s historical existence in this geography include: civil wars in Iraq and Syria, a divided Cyprus, dissonance with Armenians, and an inability to reconcile with the Kurds. The importance and value of the location is further highlighted by recent increased international attention towards several regional conflicts in Turkey’s vicinity in recent decades. While the dramatic changes in the international system following the end of the Cold War and the contours of a changing world order had earlier challenged Turkey’s traditional policy of isolating itself from regional politics, it also forced Turkey to add regional components to its foreign policy, necessitating a renewed emphasis on its multidimensional setting and its role in bridging different cultures and geographies. With this understanding of Turkey as a European, Eurasian, and Middle Eastern country, Turkey’s political elites embraced its new positioning with multiple identities and historical assets. The reimagining of Turkey’s geography and role should be one of the key elements in understanding its contemporary regional policies. Impact of International System Turkey is a country that is closely attuned to the changes in international system. While it was able to attain certain level of internal and external autonomy after its independence,6 the post-1945 bipolar international system forced Turkey to choose a side as “a policy of neutrality was not very realistic or possible for a country like Turkey, a middle-range power situated in such a geopolitically important area”.7 The Cold War, while encouraging Turkey’s dependency on the West, also sustained unquestioning Western military, political, and economic support. As long as Turkey was threatened by the Soviet Union and the US was committed to assisting Turkey’s economic development and defense, there was no reason to question Turkey’s dependency on the West. However, the collapse of the USSR and the changing context from the 1990s has resulted in a reorientation of Turkish policy. In the 1990s, Turkey became a more assertive regional power, especially in Central Asia and the Caucasus. While during the Cold War, Turkey remained firmly within the Western bloc, since the end of the Cold War, its foreign relations have been dominated by a search for alternative connections. Ten years after the end of the Cold War, the 9/11 attacks on the US and the Arab uprisings from 2011 onwards dramatically affected Turkish foreign policy. While Turkey benefitted from closer relations with the US in the immediate post-Cold War era, the US insistence to play a direct ordering role in Turkey’s neighborhood in the post 9/11 era – in the Caucasus, the Black Sea, and especially the Levant – has led to diverging interests and security perceptions. This divergence further accentuated after the Arab uprisings. 6 For the concept of internal and external autonomy in Turkish foreign policy see Oran, B. (ed.), (2010). Turkish foreign policy, 1919- 2006. Salt Lake City, Univ. of Utah Press: 15, Box: Intro 6. 7 Aron, R. (1973). Peace and War: A Theory of International Relations. New York, Anchor & Doubleday: 125-127.
C M I R E P O RT 2 0 2 1 : 0 2 9 Furthermore, the primacy of Western actors in international politics has come into question because of the global financial crisis of 2008 and the China’s impressive economic growth. Other drivers challenging Western dominance include the rise of national populism, failure of Western migration policies, and Russia’s resurgence.8 Turkey has adapted to changing circumstances in the international fora and has increasingly focused on its neighborhoods –the Balkans and the Black Sea in the 2000s, and the Middle East since early 2010s. While there were both security/strategic reasons and ideological/political choices for this change, the underlying change in the international system has also played an important determining role. More recently, Turkey has had a window of opportunity to assert itself as a regional power due to these systemic changes, coupled with the partial withdrawal of the US from its international engagements around Turkey, Europe’s struggle with resurgent Russia, and mixed outcomes of the Arab uprisings for regional geopolitics. Ideational Inclinations of the Ruling Elite In establishing the Turkish republic, the ruling elite carried out radical reforms to transform the country into a secular state and provided the basis of Western orientation, which became a key part of Turkish foreign policy during the 20th century.9 The Turkish elite’s focus on the West was accentuated in the 1990s and 2000s with a full membership bid to the EU and the subsequent negotiations which helped Turkey’s democratic transition and accelerated its international standing. The common understanding among Turkish elite at this time was that without its European connection, Turkey would be just another country in the Middle East. This belief paved the way for closer cooperation. However, the shared vision for Turkey’s future among its political, economic, and bureaucratic elite soon withered away and Turkey began to move away from the EU and started looking for alternatives in its neighborhood. While Turkey’s EU negotiations stalled as a result of a complex interaction of various political, cultural and economic developments both in the EU and in Turkey, Turkey’s Western vocation was increasingly questioned from cultural, national and security perspectives. The rise of new political elite with the Justice and Development Party’s (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi – AKP) and the consolidation of its power in Turkish politics has also affected this change. Although exclusively pro-Western in its first term, a short review of the literature since 2007 when AKP started its second term in office, reveals that the new elite had solidified its approach to foreign policy with what was conventionally labeled as “the Turkish Model.” The Turkish model referred to the uniqueness of Turkey as a regional power and underlined its ideational role in Turkey’s neighboring regions – especially in the Middle East. The Turkish model was supported by the country’s proactive foreign policy and its use of “soft power” tools.10 In the words of the then-Chief Foreign Policy Adviser to the Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s new proactive foreign policy redefined it as a “provider of security and stability” in its neighborhood.1 1 While the transformation of Turkish foreign policy away from its traditional model focusing on its Western connection towards a country with a role as regional security actor had started before AKP came to power,1 2 from 2007 the AKP-related elite tilted the balance of Turkey’s attention to its regions to the detriment of its internationally balanced position. Furthermore, the threats posed by the rising global security issues over the last couple of decades while Turkey’s economic capabilities were concomitantly improving, 8 Oğuzlu, T. (2020). “Yeni Dünya Düzeni ve Türkiye: Nasıl Bir Dış Politika?” Panorama, 18 January, https://www.uikpanorama. com/blog/2020/01/18/yeni-dunya-duzeni-ve-turkiye-nasil-bir-dis-politika/. 9 Sander, O. (1984). “Turkish Foreign Policy; Forces of Continuity and of Change”. In A. Evin (ed.), Modern Turkey; Continuity and Change. Opladen, Leske Verlag: 115-130. 10 Altunışık, M. B. (2005). “The Turkish Model and Democratization in the Middle East”. Arab Studies Quarterly, 27 (1/2): 45-63; Fotiou, E. and D. Triantaphyllou (2010). “Assessing Turkey’s ‘Soft Power’ Role: Rhetoric versus Practice”. The International Spectator, 45 (1): 99-113. 11 Davutoglu, A. (2008). “Turkey’s Foreign Policy Vision: An Assessment of 2007”. Insight Turkey, 10 (1): 77-96. 1 2 Aydın, M. (2005). Turkish Foreign Policy; Framework and Analysis. Ankara, Strategic Research Center.
10 C M I R E P O RT 2 0 2 1 : 0 2 enabled Turkey to position itself as a regional security actor.1 3 The policy proved to be successful and further intensified the willingness of Turkey’s new elite to pursue even more assertive policy in its neighborhoods – especially in the Middle East.14 Goals Hierarchy and Policy Drivers Any country’s foreign policy goals are usually derived from the country’s overarching national interests and general strategy. In the Turkish case, many analysts have attempted to identify and explain the rationale behind Turkey’s recent foreign policy activism, often by relying on some specific variable such as Islamist ideology,1 5 the electoral alliance between the AKP and the ultranationalist Nationalist Action Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi – MHP)16 or past injustices as perceived by the current leadership.17 Through our research and interviews and conversations with political elite and experts close to the foreign policy decision-making units, we have pursued a bottom-up approach to identify these goals, coming up with an aggregate goals hierarchy pursued by the Turkish leaders in foreign policy arena. They are: • Attaining strategic autonomy with a capability to maintain the country’s survival on its own, which involves having a flexible orientation in foreign policy, not compromising on perceived national interests and the essential issues for Turkey’s survival, security, and strategy, while at the same time not alienating possible or potential allies, as well as ensuring the continuation of foreign investments. • Forging new partnerships while maintaining traditional alliances, together with a policy of strategic balancing to reduce Turkey’s over-dependence on its allies and to avoid direct confrontation with Russia. • Becoming an exceptional country in its region to achieve material and political regional supremacy and respect, which would necessitate strengthening the military, expanding its footprint abroad with cross-border operations and/or military bases, and increasing its independence through 13 Bayer, R. and E. F. Keyman (2012). “Turkey: An Emerging Hub of Globalization and Internationalist Humanitarian Actor?”. Globalizations, 9 (1): 73–90; Erickson, E. J. (2004). “Turkey as Regional Hegemon: Strategic Implications for the United States”. Turkish Studies, 5 (3): 25-45; Barrinha, A. (2014). “The Ambitious Insulator: Revisiting Turkey’s Position in Regional Security Complex Theory.” Mediterranean Politics, 19 (2): 165-82; Martin, L. G. (2009). “Turkey as a Trans-Regional Actor.” Turkish Studies 10 (1): 3–6; Özkan, M. and S. Orakçı (2015). “Viewpoint: Turkey as a ‘Political’ Actor in Africa – an Assessment of Turkish Involvement in Somalia.” Journal of Eastern African Studies 9 (2): 343–52; Parlar Dal, E. (2016). “Conceptualizing and Testing the ‘Emerging Regional Power’ of Turkey in the Shifting International Order.” Third World Quarterly 37 (8): 1425–53; Öniş, Z. and M. Kutlay (2017). “The Dynamics of Emerging Middle Power Influence in Regional and Global Governance: The Paradoxical Case of Turkey.” Australian Journal of International Affairs 71 (2): 164–83. 14 Ayata, B. (2015). “Turkish Foreign Policy in a Changing Arab World: Rise and Fall of Regional Actor?” Journal of European Integration 37 (1): 95–112; Güney, A. and H. D. Bilgin (2014). “Model Countries in Political Analysis: Is Turkey a Model for State Building in the Arab World?”. Jean Monnet Occasional Paper No:10; Taşpınar, O. (2012). “Turkey’s Middle East Policies: Between Neo-Ottomanism and Kemalism.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. December 6, https://carnegieendowment. org/2008/10/07/turkey-s-middle-east-polic%20%20es-between-neo-ottomanism-and-kemalism/39k; Taşpınar, O. (2014). “The End of the Turkish Model.” Survival 56 (2): 49–64; Parlar Dal, E. and E. Erşen (2014). “Reassessing the ‘Turkish Model’ in the Post-Cold War Era: A Role Theory Perspective.” Turkish Studies 15 (2): 258–82; Aydın, M. (2009). “Geographical Blessing versus Geopolitical Curse: Great Power Security Agendas for the Black Sea Region and a Turkish Alternative.” Southeast European and Black Sea Studies 9 (3): 271–85; Celikpala, M. (2010). “Escalating Rivalries and Diverging Interests: Prospects for Stability and Security in the Black Sea Region.” Southeast European and Black Sea Studies 10 (3): 287–302; Aydin, M. (2014). “Turkish Policy towards the Wider Black Sea and the EU Connection.” Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies 16 (3): 383–97. 1 5 Ozkan, B. (2014). “Turkey, Davutoglu and the Idea of Pan-Islamism”. Survival, 56 (4): 119-140, https://doi.org/10.1080/00396338. 2014.941570. 16 https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/08/29/the-myth-of-erdogans-power/ 17 https://www.gmfus.org/events/turkeys-foreign-policy-conversation-ibrahim-kalin
C M I R E P O RT 2 0 2 1 : 0 2 11 development of domestic military industry and acquisition of much-needed weapons systems (such as S-400s) to defend itself alone. Through this analysis of these prioritized goals, we can see that attaining strategic autonomy for the country in its foreign and domestic politics, often linked to Turkey’s survival in rhetoric, ranks at the top. Although the pursuit of autonomy in foreign policy began after the end of the Cold War and was further developed during the Davutoğlu era, it was significantly reinforced by the approach taken by the US and Europe in the aftermath of the attempted coup in 2016.18 The other goals, although are important in their own right, are seen as sub-goals that enable Turkey to achieve this strategic autonomy. The concept of autonomy here should be read being independent of foreign pressures in its policy making. It also includes the wish of Turkey’s political elites to have further flexibility in policy making regarding its commitments to the Western institutions. In other words, regardless of its membership to the Western institutions, Turkey’s political elites want to act in line with the West when it suits its interests and act with non-Western partners or independently, whichever best suits its national interests, without feeling undue constraints from formal alliances and partnerships. Our project also addressed the main drivers behind the above-mentioned foreign policy goals of contemporary Turkish leaders, as a full understanding of any country’s foreign policy can only come when the motivation behind goals and policy lines is understood. The drivers here are understood as the activating issues, situations and perceptions that motivate the Turkish leadership to act towards fulfilling their chosen goals and national role conceptions. The following sections; Siege Mentality and the General Feeling of Insecurity, Domestic Power Consolidation, and Maintaining/Increasing Capabilities through Development, though not an exhaustive list, summarizes the most commonly considered drivers for Turkey’s recent activism in its foreign policy. Siege Mentality and the General Feeling of Insecurity Turkey has been a security-minded state since its inception with international security concerns at the top of the agenda. This securitized tradition emphasizes the protection of territorial integrity, political independence and non-intervention in regional conflicts. Although the principle of non- intervention in regional conflicts has been eschewed since the end of the Cold War, the “security first” principle –which is closely tied to sovereignty– continues to shape Turkish strategic thinking. While the Turkish approach to security has traditionally been nationalist and NATO-centric, in recent years, it has shifted to highlight its autonomy in its neighborhood and defend its national interests more closely. This prioritization of security is not only seen in the decision-makers level, but is also reflected in public opinion (see Figure 1), which continually highlights the widespread threats it perceives from all quarters. 18 Falk, R. (2018). “Through a Glass Darkly: The Past, Present, and Future of Turkish Foreign Policy”. In: Parlar Dal, E. (eds), Middle Powers in Global Governance. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.: 33-51.
12 C M I R E P O RT 2 0 2 1 : 0 2 FIGURE 1: DO YOU THINK FOLLOWING COUNTRIES THREATEN TURKEY? COUNTRY YES NO I DON’T KNOW USA 70,0 16,6 13,4 ISRAEL 66,7 17,5 15,8 SYRIA 65,4 19,3 15,3 IRAN 59,0 22,0 19,0 GREECE 58,9 23,0 18,1 ARMENIA 58,6 22,5 18,9 IRAQ 56,5 24,8 18,7 RUSSIA 55,0 26,6 18,4 UK 54,7 26,6 18,7 FRANCE 53,8 27,9 18,3 GERMANY 48,7 32,8 18,5 Source: Aydın, M., et all. (2020). Quantitative Research Report on Public Perceptions on Turkish Foreign Policy – 2020. İstanbul, Kadir Has University and Akademetre, 17 June. It is frequently argued that Turkey still suffers from a “Sèvres syndrome” – fear of dismemberment through foreign intrigues and interventions.19 This fear for country’s survival has been exacerbated in recent years with the internationalization of the Kurdish issue, especially in connection with its borders with Syria and Iraq where international terror groups can move across mountainous areas. As such, Turkey’s recent military operations in Syria, while countering the threat perceived from these regions beyond the Turkish border, also allows Turkey to maintain and control a security or a buffer zone to prevent border crossings. Another aspect of the “siege mentality” and the “general feeling of insecurity” is the perception of loneliness, augmented by a reality that Turkey has few allies in a very complex and conflict-ridden neighborhood. This feeling is enhanced by a belief that its allies, such as European countries and the US, “are not always acting in tandem with Turkey on economic, political, or security issues”.2 0 The feeling of betrayal by the allies (re)surfaced due to the US’s close cooperation with the Democratic Union Party of Syria (PYD) and its military wing – the People’s Protection Unit (YPG), which are affiliated with the PKK. However, this dissonance between the threat perceptions of Turkey and its allies is not only due to the actions taken (or to be specific “not taken”) by its Western allies in Syria, Libya, and the Eastern Mediterranean, but also exacerbated by the Western (in)action in the aftermath of the coup d’état attempt in July 2016.2 1 The Kurdish issue has been a driving force for Turkish politics on multiple levels: in defining the nature of the domestic political alliances, reconfiguring Turkey’s regional aspirations, defining its approach to other regional countries, and limiting relations with its international partners. Indeed, the Kurdish issue has frequently been described as one of the “major determinants of domestic political consolidation” among the military, the bureaucracy, and the political establishment.2 2 19 Drakoularakos, S. (2020). “Turkey and Erdoğan’s rising “Lausanne Syndrome.” Digest of Middle East Studies. doi:10.1111/ dome.12224; Tharoor, I. (2020). “A century-old treaty haunts the Mediterranean”. Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost. com/world/2020/08/10/treaty-sevres-erdogan-turkey/. 2 0 Online interview with an academic working at a think thank close to the AKP, September 2020. 21 Online interview with a conservative Turkish expert working for international think-tanks, September 2020. 2 2 All experts and political elites that were interviewed listed, when asked, the “Kurdish issue” amongst their top three drivers for Turkish foreign policy.
C M I R E P O RT 2 0 2 1 : 0 2 13 Recent external threat perceptions also include developments from 2019 in the Eastern Mediterranean, where, feeling encircled by several countries, Turkey hastily designed a combination of diplomatic and military responses which drew the country into the Libyan Civil War and resulted in a clash with Greece in the Mediterranean and Aegean. Internal threat perceptions have been successfully externalized with continuing internal and cross border operations against the PKK and the Fethullah Gülen affiliated persons and groups. In fact, after the failed coup attempt in 2016, large parts of Turkey’s foreign and security policies have been geared towards dealing with domestic and external factions of what is now called Fethullah Gülen Terror Organization (FETÖ) and the growing autonomy of the Kurdish groups in Northeastern Syria that is supported and protected by the US. At the same time, the government’s attempts to build civilian oversight and monitoring mechanisms over the military from early 2000s onwards was first aided by the EU integration processes, which the government frequently used as justification for its reforms and crack downs on Ankara’s bureaucratic tutelage regime. Later on, the process intensified with the implementation of the Presidential system and an even tighter grip of the political (civil) control over the military with the cooption of former Chief of General Staff, General Hulisi Akar, as the new all-powerful Minister of Defence. The fear of dismemberment and loss of territory continues to hound Turkish national security thinking. As President Erdoğan declared in his Victory Day speech on August 29, 2019, “Turkey pursues [the] same determination to protect its national survival as it did 97 years ago”. 2 3 Hence, the shadow of the Sèvres Syndrome continues to impact both Turkish public opinion and the political elite. The primary concern of Turkish political elites and the top decision-makers seem to be keeping the state as a “stable territory surrounded by a volatile milieu”. To achieve this, Turkey has recently moved from a defensive position to a more offensive one. As such, recent changes in positioning in Iraq, Syria, and the Eastern Mediterranean have forced Turkey to re-think its national security architecture and foreign policy and security strategies. In response to recent regional geopolitical changes, President Erdoğan stated in January 2020 that “Turkey will continue to vigorously defend its rights and interests abroad. The country’s future and security begin far beyond its borders”. 2 4 Similarly, the decision to send troops to Libya was presented in Turkey as a “rejection of claims against Turkey’s interests” and attempts to force Turkey to submit international forces that conspire against Turkish interests. This is in contrast to how it was framed from abroad as Turkey “flexing its muscles” and attempting “to become a power broker in a volatile region”. According to Erdoğan Turkey has risen under his administration to a position where its voice is heard on every regional and global issue. As a result, unnamed “international powers” are continuously presented to the public as trying to undermine Turkish power to prevent it from becoming an influential country “again” with power to shape the world. Thus, Turkey today wages “a struggle against those who seek to -yet again- condemn Turkey to modern-day capitulations.” Domestic Power Consolidation Another important driver behind Turkey’s foreign policy activism in recent years has been the electoral alliance created between the AKP and MHP, as well as nationalists and Eurasianist groups within the state apparatus in general. The alliance clearly drives current Turkish policies in Iraq and Syria, and is increasingly affecting various foreign policy issues, especially in relation to Turkey’s Western alliance and the Kurdish question. Turkey’s Syria policies have become increasingly tangled with domestic political developments and the AKP’s need for domestic support to stay in power. Many surveys have already shown that in the long-term foreign policy actions do not garner more votes for the government. However, in the case of, for example, Turkey’s cross-border military operations, the 2 3 https://www.tccb.gov.tr/en/speeches-statements/558/109410/message-on-august-30-victory-day 2 4 https://www.aa.com.tr/en/turkey/turkeys-security-begins-far-beyond-borders-erdogan/1697901
14 C M I R E P O RT 2 0 2 1 : 0 2 stimulated issue-based support due to “rally around the flag” concept 2 5 can be seen at two levels: a) It works in reality as a short-term “rally around the leader” effect. Hence the expectation among the government circles that, should the public support for the leader increases in the short term, this could be translated into a long-term voting intention if sustained with similar policies down the line; and b) In almost all cases in Turkey, the public exhibits increased support for the nation and troops while an operation is taking place, which creates a vicious circle of operations after operations in an attempt to keep the support up. Although this does not necessarily translate into a long-term voting behavior, it could be kept alive if the sentiments could be sustained through series of such interventions abroad. Hence, many analysts argue that the government continues to create foreign policy situations where military force or coercive means can be used repeatedly.2 6 For example, several public polls conducted by the Metropoll Polling after the four operations in Syria showed that these cross-border operations garnered around 70% overall support.2 7 However, the same poll also showed that this support came as the second version of the “rally around the flag” concept, and the overall support did not transform into the “rally around the leader” model – and did not translate into votes. In the structured webinars organized for this project, experts argued that the public support for the operations in Syria came from a clearer understanding of the threat.2 8 However, looking at the Eastern Mediterranean, different results appear – a September 2020 poll shows that only 23% of the population supported military solutions while 75% preferred non-military policy options.2 9 Thus, although the government’s rhetoric feeds the nationalistic sentiments of the population, without an accepted enemy image or a clear threat perception, the majority of the population is against military escalations. Figures 2-5 show that military presence abroad (bases, other installations and Turkey’s cross- border operations against terrorist groups) garner higher support among the voter base of the MHP – even more than AKP constituency. This extends the government’s activist – i.e. use of threats and force – foreign policy that we have seen in recent years. FIGURE 2: SUPPORT FOR MILITARY PRESENCE ABROAD Do you support Turkey’s military presence and/or establishing military bases abroad? YES NO NO OPINION 36,8 35,6 27,6 Source: Aydin, M. et all. (2020), Quantitative Research Report on Public Perceptions on Turkish Foreign Policy – 2020. İstanbul, Kadir Has University & Akademetre, 17 June. 2 5 For discussions on the phenomenon see Baum, M. A. (2002). “The constituent foundations of the rally-round-the-flag phenomenon”. International Studies Quarterly, 46 (2): 263-298. 2 6 See for example: Bremmer, I. (2021). How Erdogan’s increasingly erratic rule in Turkey presents a risk to the world. Time, https:// time.com/5943435/turkey-erdogan-increasingly-autocratic/; N.a. (2020). Turkey’s increasingly assertive foreign policy. Strategic Comments, 26(6), iv–vi. doi:10.1080/13567888.2020.1830557; Online interview with an Istanbul based liberal Turkish expert within think-tank community, August 2020. 2 7 See Zeitgeist Turkey | Episode 18: Does conflict-oriented foreign policy rally votes for Ankara?, October 22, 2020, https://www. duvarenglish.com/podcast/2020/10/22/zeitgeist-turkey-episode-18-does-conflict-oriented-foreign-policy-rally-votes-for-ankara/. In the podcast the co-host Can Selçuki, who presents the numbers, do not specify the exact dates of the different polls. 2 8 “Turkey as a Regional Security Actor” on September 21, 2020. The webinar was organized by the Project Team online to discuss relevant issues with experts of Turkish foreign an security policies based on a pre-structured discussion themes. It was not recorded and conducted on the basis of “Chattam House Rules”. 2 9 Zeitgeist Turkey | Episode 18.
C M I R E P O RT 2 0 2 1 : 0 2 15 FIGURE 3: SUPPORT FOR MILITARY PRESENCE ABROAD BY PART Y AFFILIATION PARTY YES NO NO IDEA AKP 51,1 19,8 29,1 CHP 19,9 54,1 26,0 MHP 60,4 17,7 21,9 HDP 6,0 66,0 28,0 IYIP 28,2 45,9 25,9 Source: Aydin, M. et all. (2020), Quantitative Research Report on Public Perceptions on Turkish Foreign Policy – 2020. İstanbul, Kadir Has University & Akademetre, 17 June. FIGURE 4: SUPPORT FOR CROSS BORDER OPER ATIONS In general, do you support Turkey’s cross-border operations? YES NO NO OPINION 41,2 35,8 23,0 Source: Aydin, M. et all. (2020), Quantitative Research Report on Public Perceptions on Turkish Foreign Policy – 2020. İstanbul, Kadir Has University & Akademetre, 17 June. FIGURE 5: SUPPORT FOR CROSS-BORDER OPER ATIONS BY PART Y AFFILIATION PARTY YES NO NO IDEA AKP 54,1 22,6 23,4 CHP 29,1 47,4 23,5 MHP 57,3 22,9 19,8 HDP 13,0 66.0 21,0 IYIP 31,8 43,5 24,7 Source: Aydin, M. et all. (2020), Quantitative Research Report on Public Perceptions on Turkish Foreign Policy – 2020. İstanbul, Kadir Has University & Akademetre, 17 June. Some of our interviewees argued that President Erdoğan pursues various foreign policy actions in order to increase his hold on power. Others argued that policy making is driven by “whatever works to raise the popularity of the government at home, regardless of the long-term consequences”.3 0 In the context of the poll results in figures 2–5, the popularity hike is pursued to a temporary effect and does not seem to translate into actual votes in the longer term. As such, foreign policy, seen to underpin President Erdoğan’s domestic political trajectories and his strategy to hold the current coalition together, reflects a highly nationalistic approach. On the other hand, some argue that Turkey’s geopolitical reach and wish to dominate its neighborhood has overcome the political divide, meaning 3 0 Online interview with a conservative Turkish expert within the international think-tank community, September 2020.
16 C M I R E P O RT 2 0 2 1 : 0 2 that a change of government would only make a small difference in terms of Turkey’s challenges and its responses to them.31 However, we need to underline the fact that foreign policy plays a key role in holding together the domestic political coalition that AKP has established with the MHP. Maintaining/Increasing Capabilities through Development From the early days of the republic, increasing the nation’s wealth and industrial development has been seen as both a way to increase the welfare of its citizens and also to extend the country’s power base. It has also had an international component due to country’s chosen manner of development. Thus, by the end of the Second World War, Turkey favored closer relations with the West – both because of security concerns, and also though a realization that the country needed extensive economic support to stimulate the economy after years of austerity. In the post-war period, the US was the only country with the capacity to expand economic aid to Turkey, a fact that was clear through Turkey signing agreements with the US that, in terms of security, were based on the Truman Doctrine and economically on the Marshall Plan. It is important to note that Turkey joined the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OECD’s predecessor) in 1948, four years before joining NATO. Since then, Turkey-US relations have always had the two pillars of economy and security, which were finally linked with the signing of Defense and Economic Cooperation Agreement (DECA) in March 1980. This agreement allowed US access to 26 military facilities in Turkey in return for an extensive military and economic aid package.3 2 In the 1980s, as the demands from the growing Turkish population and dysfunctional Turkish economy forced Turkey to open up and integrate with the global economy, Turkey’s Western connection was again strengthened. It also led to the unprecedented move by the then President Özal to articulate his “Economy First” principle, putting it briefly ahead of security and foreign policies. Similarly, Turkey’s opening to its neighboring regions in the 1990s and 2000s related to the needs of a growing economy, demands of the middle classes, and aspirations of a young and increasingly educated population. These aspects of Turkey’s international connections do not simply derive from the preferences of the ruling classes or the wishes of a leader, but reflect a long-standing structural imperative that is not easily alleviated by choices or preferences of different governments or decision makers. Thus, to achieve Turkey’s long-term domestic goal of a sustained economic growth becomes an important imperative behind pursuing a foreign policy that does not alienate potential investors and the country’s trade partners. More recently, Turkey’s attempts to diversify its external trade base by extending to the Middle East and Africa also clearly relates to this, and connects to Turkey’s earlier active involvement in solving regional problems in 2000s. However, the more interventionist policy of 2010s has negatively affected this foreign policy- economic development connection. As such, much recent developments indicate that the government sometimes tries to resolve the downturn in foreign direct investments by promising reforms and indicating new foreign policy that align closer with Turkey’s Western partners. These same considerations could be motivating the recent promises of economic, political and judicial reforms and the human rights action plan. President Erdoğan’s statement, after years of dissonance with the EU, that “We see ourselves in Europe, not anywhere else. We look to build our future with Europe” also demonstrates this.3 3 This sudden turn can be read in light of Turkey’s increased economic problems following the two sharp contractions in two years and the dire need for foreign direct investment. 31 This argument is most frequently stated in relation to the EastMed issue(s) as was the case in our webinar; “Turkey in the Mediterranean” on October 12, 2020. The webinar was organized by the Project Team online to discuss relevant issues with experts of Turkish foreign an security policies based on a pre-structured discussion themes. It was not recorded and conducted on the basis of “Chattam House Rules”. 32 See Uzgel, İ. (2010). “Relations with the USA and NATO, 1960-1980”. In: Oran (ed.), Turkish Foreign Policy, 1919-2006: 428-430. 3 3 https://www.dailysabah.com/politics/diplomacy/turkey-to-build-its-future-with-europe-Erdoğan-says.
C M I R E P O RT 2 0 2 1 : 0 2 17 According to Kouamé and Rab, Turkey needs to “refocus attention on structural reforms and build back a resilient economic system that propels it into the high-income group of nations”, 3 4 which should be seen in connection with the national role conceptions of the current ruling elite that sees Turkey among the more influential global countries and also with the domestic power consolidation wishes of the government. Finally, economic development links directly with the development of indigenous military industrial complex, which is seen absolutely necessary if Turkey is to achieve autonomy in its foreign and security policies. The development of a local defense industry is clearly linked to the improvement in military capacity which then motivates more adventurous foreign policy initiatives in challenging the status quo in Turkey’s neighborhood, such as in Syria, Libya, and the Caucasus. Contemporary National Role Conceptions Studies that examine the national role conceptions of Turkey detect several alternative roles for Turkey.3 5 Turkey’s previous national role conceptions include Turkey as a “bridge between continents”, “gateway of civilizations”, “model country” and “active independent country”.3 6 Further, there is a widely shared understanding of Turkey’s role that conceptualizes the country as a significant actor in all its regions – diplomatically, militarily, politically, and culturally. The current government has used this perception to steer Turkey towards activism in foreign policy in its neighborhood. Through our analysis, we found two current (additional) role conceptions: “Order Builder in the Neighborhood” and “Dynamic Regional Key Country.” Through our research and interviews we have identified some of the role-specific responsibilities/targets that the current Turkish leadership ascribe to: • Countering Russia in the Black Sea, the Caucasus, and the Levant region • Fighting radical extremist groups in the Middle East and North Africa • Balancing Iran’s influence in Syria and Iraq • Balancing US support for the PKK in the Middle East in general and in Northeast Syria in particular • Balancing Russian and China’s influences in Central Asia, especially with regards to Turkic states • Filling the gap created by the withdrawal of the US from, and the end of the attractiveness of the EU, in Turkey’s neighborhood • Opposing other regional countries (such as the UAE, Iran, and Saudi Arabia) filling the above- mentioned space. From the above list it can be established that: (1) both the practice of balancing and the role as a balancer is seen as important; (2) the Turkish leadership has an opportunistic outlook to increasing its regional influence that can be achieved through active engagement, and; (3) Turkey views itself as a responsible actor – THE actor –who, on behalf of the Western block, counters Russia and fights terrorism in its neighborhood, while at the same time countering “imperialist” tendencies of other states in Africa. 3 4 Kouamé, A. T. and H. Rab (2020). “Turkey’s economic recovery from COVID-19: Preparing for the long haul”. Brookings, Future Development, November 17, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/future-development/2020/11/17/turkeys-economic-recovery-from- covid-19-preparing-for-the-long-haul/ 3 5 National role conceptions is the way leaders perceive the position of both their own states and other states. See Holsti, K. J. (1970). “National Role Conceptions in the Study of Foreign Policy.” International Studies Quarterly 14 (3): 233–309. They are not just determined by leaders themselves, but also affected by the events that happen in the international relations between specific states. See Walker, S. J. (1987). “Role theory and Origins of Foreign Policy”. In: C. F. Hermann, C. Kegley and J. Rosenau (eds.), New Directions in the Study of Foreign Policy. London, Harper Collins: 269-284. 3 6 For a more in-depth study on national role conceptions of Turkish leaders, see Ö. Özdamar, B. T. Halistoprak and Ï. E. Sula (2014). “From Good Neighbor to Model: Turkey’s Changing Roles in the Middle East in the Aftermath of the Arab Spring”. Uluslararası İlişkiler 11 (42): 93-113.
18 C M I R E P O RT 2 0 2 1 : 0 2 These role perceptions go hand in hand with specific action-prescriptions. One interviewee argued that Turkey cannot solely rely on diplomacy to execute these role-specific targets and thus needs a significant military presence in these areas.3 7 The policy-making elites also underline that Turkey needs to actively use its intelligence apparatus to support its engagements in these regions. Turkey would thus be the regional power asserting itself as one of the primary actors that defines the outcome of major regional crises.3 8 Some of our interviewees also argued that Turkey has already been an important player in the regions that it is actively engaged today, and this connection shapes the way it acts. Some argued that the “Western countries are imperialist, their presence is foreign and therefore unsuccessful”, while Turkey’s presence is “non-imperialist, local and more natural”. Further arguing that, because of its Ottoman Empire history, Turkey has more links to the peoples of these regions. Others, however, argued that Turkey can still be seen as a foreign actor and an imperialist country, and that Turkey’s motivations are not much different than those of European countries. They recognize that, while the government might be motivated by justice and a need to help dispossessed peoples, Turkey’s leadership is also motivated by power, prestige, importance and a desire to rule over others – these motivations are not so different from other powers.39 We should note that these role perceptions are significantly shaped by the political polarization in Turkey. While the pro-government elites in Turkey see Turkey’s role as order-setting, the oppositional elites criticize this perception as being both imperialist and aggressive. Regional Security Actor There is a widespread perception amid the foreign policy community close to the government that “Turkey is an important regional security actor within its neighborhood”.4 0 This perception is somewhat based on a misleading understanding of the “regional security actor” concept. The pro-government pundits continuously use the concept to refer to Turkey having the power to decisively influence the security environment in its neighborhood. In theory, however, the concept is neutral and refers to any state whose actions and motivations in international security are heavily regional, as opposed to interregional or global security actors. In theory, all security concerns are primarily generated in the immediate neighborhood of any given security actor.41 Yet the influence and capacities of these actors significantly differ. Turkey has always been an important actor in its neighborhood and Turkey’s influence and footprint within regional security is significant – whether positive or negative. However, some of our interviewees argue that Turkey has recently shifted from being a “security provider” to being a “security actor.” In their framework, this shift refers to the fact that Turkey now defines the security scene around itself and its ability to affect the regional power balances. For example, they argue, Turkey previously contributed to the security of the Black Sea region “through the OSCE in times when the region witnessed destabilization” because of terrorism and refugees. Likewise, Turkey provided security to Europe by “acting as a security-wall between unstable regions and Europe” and through its NATO membership, “stood against Russia in the Southern Flank”. However, others suggested that Turkey had not been an autonomous actor and its importance and role in the geopolitics of its neighborhood before the AKP was conditioned by its connections with its Western partners. With the 37 Online interview with a policy advisor to the President, August 2020. 3 8 This and following quotations from online interviews with policy advisors and experts that holds views aligned with the President. August-November, 2020. 39 This view was frequently expressed during interviews with experts in opposition to the current government, though few of policy advisors and experts that holds views aligned with the President also expressed such arguments. Online interviews, August- November 2020. 4 0 This section includes analysis of the responses from online interviews in August-November 2020 to the questions, “Would you think it is accurate to describe Turkey as a ‘regional security actor’?” and “If so, how did Turkey become such an actor?”. 41 For details of the regional security complex theory, see B. Buzan and O. Weaver (2003). Regions and Powers: The Structure of International Society. Cambridge, UK, The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge.
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